I want a do-over!
I want to have the wisdom I have now acquired through time, experience, and training and get to re-do being a mother, a wife, a daughter, and friend. If I knew then what I know now, all of my relationships would be beneficiaries of consciousness.
For the purpose of this article, I will stick to “Conscious Parenting,” because of all the relationships I wish I had known more about, it is that between my children and me. My son was born in London and because my husband worked and I was mostly alone, my son became the source of great comfort and companionship for me. Was that wrong? Near daily walks into town in his “perambulator” (pram) to the green grocer, bakery, flower shop, and butcher gave me exercise and time together with him. Fortunately, his sweet nature made time with him easy and stress free, making him my best friend and companion. But I put aside some exciting things I perhaps could have done – taken an art class in London, made friends – to be with him. Was that for him or for me?
Was he only who I needed him to be?
That relationship went on for many years because he and I had the same sense of humor and the same temperament and interests, but was he being what I needed him to be, or was he being authentically himself? Did he get to individuate from his dad and me the way he needed to and know himself for himself? Sometimes I think so, but sometimes I wonder if being more conscious of how he met my needs would have allowed him more room to be and become who he really is.
How often do we evaluate the criticism we give our kids, the things we praise, the things we discourage, the advice we give? Is it to fulfill our dreams and expectations, to enhance their self-worth, to teach life skills or to soothe our own narcissistic need to be seen a certain way by others? What drives us to yell at them when they’re refusing to do their homework – the knowledge that they can do better, our need to exercise our power over them, fear that they will fail or that we will look bad if they fail? This isn’t an article about that “yelling never works,” but we are driven to make unhealthy parenting choices, often by our own needs or because…
“That’s the way I was raised”
Although most things in our lives have changed since we were children, we get stuck on parenting our own offspring in the same (or opposite) way that we were raised. I would never consider owning the same refrigerator (“ice box”) that we had when I grew up. It had this crazy little freezer with aluminum ice trays that required periodic thawing and ice pick chiseling. Refrigerators – and ice trays, if they’re even necessary – are now light years better than my childhood one.
Advances in parenting
Our parents learned what they learned and taught us what they learned, but were often as far from conscious as parents could be. And so, for generations, corporal punishment and yelling were the handed-down parenting style for lots of families. But as the refrigerator has improved, advances in neuroscience, social learning, education, and the role divisions of couples have given us the knowledge and opportunity to raise our children differently and, hopefully, more consciously. By more consciously, I simply mean asking: did I do that for him or for me … and will it actually accomplish my intent?
Although corporal punishment has all but vanished, yelling remains alive and well despite the failure of outcome. When the urge to yell arises, I now ask: What is my intent? What outcome do I desire for my child? And what is the best way to achieve that? Being clear about my motives, makes me clear about my intent, aka, conscious parenting.
Lesley S. Cunningham is a therapist with The Labyrinth Institute
specializing in relationships and attachment issues. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 720-509-9832.